This Feral Nation
It was about mid-day, but you couldn't tell from the gray sky. The forest was quiet, aside from the wind in the trees. It smelled like rain, Boomer thought. Rain was always a blessing. The two of them walked quietly, taking each step gingerly so the crunch of leaves doesn't bring any unwanted attention. Boomer knew the boy was hungry, but they only had so much food left, and didn't want to risk straying too far from the river. They were far enough away as it was, the river winding away from them for a few miles during this portion of the trek. Boomer's stomach growled beneath the poncho, and he tried to ignore it.
Pup walked by his side, his blue eyes sparkling beneath the grime and dirt on his face. He had lost his poncho, so was making due with a garbage bag they'd found in the last houses. That was four days ago, and the bag was already beginning to tear. Finding the boy a replacement jumped up on the list of priorities. At this pace, they were still two weeks away from Carnival, which was a generous estimate. They'd have to go further inland, and scavenge eventually.
“Alright, pup, let's sit. Old man's knees and all. Why don't you take a leak, and see if you can't find some tinder. I'll get us a piece of jerky out of the pack.”
The little boy's eyes lit up at the thought of some jerky, and he walked into the brush with a slight smile on his face. Beef jerky was the boy's favorite food, so Boomer kept it back for whenever the boy needed a smile.
He set the olive duffel bag on the ground, and sat on it, his knees creaking as he lowered himself. Boomer stroked his gray beard as he went through the messenger bag, a nervous habit he'd picked up. Boomer carried almost all their supplies on his body, split between the huge duffel bag and two messenger bags. He kept the food, first aid kit, and bullets in the messenger bags, just in case they had to make a run for it. The duffel bag kept their blankets, spare clothes, and the scavenged goods Boomer would bring back to Carnival. Until he had found the bag at Fort Pennington three summer's back, he had pushed around a shopping cart with his supplies.
Boomer looked through the messenger bag, trying to find the the bit of jerky he had stashed back, when he heard the loud crunch of leaves behind him, followed by the click of a revolver cocking. Boomer sighed wearily, and stood up, turning around to see a young man, in his twenties at best, pointing a revolver at him. The young man was all skin and bones, his clothes torn and shredded. God only knows how long he had been out there. His hair was a mess, and he had the faint signs of peach fuzz on his face.
“You been following us, what, five miles now, I reckon?” Boomer said evenly, keeping his hands beneath the poncho, trying to keep the young man as calm as possible.
“Y-y-yeah, you knew? Didn't do you no good!” The young man stammered.
“Hungry, huh? How long you been out here?”
“S-s-shut it! J-j-just give me the food, alright? I'll shoot you!” The young man raised the gun even more, to emphasize how serious he was.
“I get it, okay? You've got the gun, you're in charge. But I don't think you want to shoot me. Wouldn't be prudent, y'hear? Lower the young, and we'll have a chat.”
“No! No! Just give it to me!” The young man was near tears, desperate. Boomer was always afraid of desperate people, couldn't predict them.
“Now, hold on. You shoot that gun, you know what'll happen? All the wolves in ear shot will be here in moments. You want that? You got the look of a man who's ran from them before, you got it in you to do it again?”
“Ain't no wolves! I ain't seen them for weeks!”
“Don't need to see them, but they're there. Lower the gun, kid. We'll talk this through. Ain't no sense getting us all killed. Ain't no proper graves out here for us.” Boomer wanted the young man to lower the gun, but the look in his eyes. He was too hungry, too scared.
The sound startled them both, and they both snapped their heads to the side, where Pup had just walked up, accidentally stepping on and snapping a branch. He looked wide-eyed, terrified, at the young man.
The young man was taken back at the look of the child, and Boomer saw the young man's grip on the gun waver slightly, losing his resolve. Boomer wasn't going to give him the chance to get it back.
The bullet hit the young man square in the throat, and he crumpled to the ground with a gurgle. The gun in Boomer's hand trembled beneath the poncho, and Pup looked at him, trying to hold back tears.
“Start a fire, climb a tree.” Boomer told the child, calmly. The boy stood, frozen, staring at the young man on the ground. He was still alive, barely. “Pup!”, Boomer raised his voice as much as he could, “Start a fire. Climb a tree. Now.”
Boomer hadn't lied to the young man, they only had a few moments to do what needed to be done. As Pup ran around, collecting wood and leaves to make a smokey fire, Boomer walked over to the young man. The bullet had hit him right in the windpipe. If this was the old days, he probably could have survived a shot like this. If only. Boomer knelt down, to the young man's side. He couldn't speak, blood was filling up his mouth, but his eyes said enough.
Boomer thought for a second, wondering if a moment like this required words, or maybe a prayer. But there was no time for that. Boomer sighed, and clamped his hands on the young man's face, smothering him and cutting him off from air. The young man twitched and squirmed slightly, but within a moment, the body was still. The young man stared at Boomer with glassy eyes. They were sparkling blue, just like Pup's. Boomer closed the young man's eyelids, and searched his pocket's for anything valuable, anything they could use to survive. But the young man had nothing, not even bullets in the rusty gun.